Course manual Introduction to Disaster Management


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Unit summary


In this unit you learned about what kind of impacts disasters can have on the community. Impacts of a disaster can be either physical or social. Usually the physical impacts of a disaster lead to the social impacts of disaster. So if the physical impacts of a disaster can be reduced so too can the social impacts. The impact of any disaster can be reduced by being prepared for the hazard.

One impact that is not often mentioned is the impact on the animal population of a community. The economic effects of the loss of production animals will be huge in some societies, and the loss of companion animals may add to the trauma of disaster.

Self Assessment Activities


  1. Search the internet for a case study of a disaster that has occurred in your area or within your region. A report or newspaper report may also be another source. The disaster may either be a man made or natural disaster. After reading your case study, do the following:

  1. identify the type of impacts

  2. state two sectors that were impacted by the disaster.

  3. describe what effect the disaster had on the above sectors in (b).
  1. This is an internet based student self assessment task. With reference to the Boxing Day Tsunami disaster, map out an emergency food distribution plan that you and your family would have pre-planned and would like to see adopted and implemented by aid relief workers in the event of similar disasters. Consider factors such as short and long term impacts on personal and family income and how it affects your family’s overall welfare.

Model Answers for Self Assessment Activities.

  1. Your answer should state:

  • What type of impact there was, whether physical, social, economic, emotional, or all of the above or just two of them, etc.

  • Any two sectors that were affected by the disaster – can be any two of the following education sector, health sector, built environment, power, water, transport, etc.

  • The kind of impact the disaster had on the sectors you stated in (b) – e.g. if education, school halls were used as shelters, classes were disrupted, how long before students could resume classes, if parents had lost their offices in the disaster, they no longer had jobs to go back to, thus was payment of child’s school fee affected, etc.

  1. The student’s personal food distribution plan should primarily focus on their village and immediate surroundings. Reference to the Boxing Day Tsunami will give the student an insight into the problems and lessons learned to help the student map out or plan his/her own food distribution plan. Note there is no right or wrong answer, the purpose is to make the student think and appreciate the difficulties of coordinating and delivering food aid on a massive scale.


Resources on Emergency Evacuation and Disaster Preparedness. Retrieved on 23/11/07from:,

UN stresses education of schoolchildren as key to reducing impact of natural disasters. Retrieved on 24/11/07 from:

Lindell, M. K. & Prater, C. S., (2003), “Assessing Community Impacts of Natural Disasters”, Nat. Hazards Rev., 4, 176 – 185.

“Chapter 6 Field Research on the Social and Physical Impact and Responses in the Affected Areas”. Accessed on 22/11/07

“Social Security” Accessed on 19/11/07 from

“Human Security”. Accessed on 15/11/07 from

World Society for the Protection of Animals, (2007) accessed on 21/01/08 at:

Heath, S. Animal Management in Disaster (1999) Mosby, St. Louis

U.S. State Disaster Plans for animals: New Mexico. Accessed on 21/11/07:

California. Accessed on 21/11/07:

Unit 13

Emotional Impacts of Disasters


In Unit 1 you would have looked at the different types of disasters that occur. Whether it is a natural or a man-made disaster, the impact disasters have on the affected community, either collectively or individually, varies. All too often it is much easier to see the physical consequences of a disaster – injuries, death, and displacement. The immediate response to alleviate the pain and suffering is easily measured in terms of shelter, food, medicine, water and other things alike. Many victims of disasters have the ability to adapt to the sudden changes in their environment and daily routine more than others, and thus, are more resilient. The more prepared communities are before a disaster occurs, the more resilient they are.

Today across the small island states, we are seeing the need to consider more the psychosocial effects that the disaster has on the affected communities; something that is less obvious. As research has shown disasters are expected to increase in the future. As a result, more people are expected to be emotionally and mentally affected, testing their resilience. There is a need for trauma counselling services in high risk areas, as well as the need to consider or put in place welfare services for those severely impacted by disasters! Programs to put in place trained counsellors at the community or village level have already been established in some areas.

In this unit we will look at trauma, counselling, welfare and security as psychosocial effects of disasters on communities.

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:


  • Define trauma;

  • Identify the stages of disaster recovery and their associated problems;

  • State and explain at least three factors that make a person vulnerable to trauma;

  • State at least three symptoms of trauma;

  • Define counselling briefly using your own words;

  • State at least three different types of counselling;

  • State and identify at least four symptoms of people who need counselling;

  • State briefly in your own words how to find a counsellor.



experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope.


short-term, interpersonal, theory-based process of helping persons who are psychologically healthy resolve to developmental and situational issues.

Recovery stages:

Stages of recovery immediately after the impact of a hazard


What is Trauma?

Anyone who goes through a disaster experiences some kind of trauma. For the less resilient communities or individuals, trauma can destroy them in that they cannot cope with the sudden event of a disaster and so they may suffer from a developing disease, lead to substance abuse, mental disorders and eventually destroy relationships, and the very fabric of society which are families themselves. Trauma is an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope. When an adult or child is traumatized, they are experiencing reactions to the trauma that affect their ability to function. You must remember that when we talk about trauma, it is not only the survivors of a disaster that can be traumatized – there are also the relatives and friends of survivors, or emergency workers, and even seeing and hearing about disasters through the media (especially children!).

Emotional Stages of Disaster Recovery

Before we go on, it is important to note as well that there are several stages that a community will go through during and immediately after the disaster, in the recovery stage. These may in one way or the other, contribute to the effect on a person after the disaster is over as noted in the diagram below.

Figure 14: Typical Phases of a Disaster

These stages are described briefly below:

  1. Pre-disaster

This is the stage just before the hazard strikes. Education and awareness is carried out in this stage. If it is a slow onset disaster then enough warning and awareness is given to the community on the risks posed by the hazard, thus giving the community enough time to prepare.

  1. Heroic Stage

This is the stage usually at the onset or impact of disaster and immediately after the disaster. At this stage many people in the community are strong and focused, and use most of their energy in saving themselves as well as others. There is a strong sense of sharing, people helping one another, and treating even a stranger as “family”. People are so busy responding and helping out when and where they can, and so the activity level is high and people usually really do not have time to stop and ponder over what has just happened.

  1. Honeymoon

The honeymoon stage follows immediately after the heroic stage and may take several weeks. It is during this stage that there is cohesion in the community, in the care centres, where the immediate needs of food and water are being attended to. People meet together and are relieved that they are safe, and alive, and that they have a place to stay until they can return back home. Some begin the clean up process in anticipation of moving on and returning to their homes, and also with the encouragement from government and relief agencies that they will be supported, when trying to rebuild their lives and return to normal. Sometimes expectations of those in care centres become too high of government and relief agencies. When this happens the victims of disaster begin to get frustrated from the congested living in care centres, anger, restlessness, survival guilt, and anxiety begins to set in.

  1. Disillusionment

This stage is also termed the “second disaster” stage in that people have now been in care centres for more than a month. They find that their request for assistance to get their lives back to normal seems to be taking forever by the authorities! It is also at this stage that many of the relief agencies have left the scene. People realize that they cannot wait on the government forever and some take it into their own hands to start to rebuild a normal life to get out of the stress they are going through while living at the care centre. This stage lasts a month or two to a year or two.

  1. Reconstruction

This stage lasts for several years following the disaster. In this stage people have already assumed the responsibility of recovery and work together to develop reconstruction plans and programs. Reconstruction and rebuilding may be going on around them but the community has already returned to its normal routine; with some adaptation.

The above stages will assist you as a disaster officer to understand what people in disasters go through. Why? As a disaster officer, you will be able to make better informed decisions, to be able to meet the emotional needs that may arise during and after a disaster.

Factors of vulnerability to trauma

There are many factors which contribute towards one person experiencing trauma and not the other person. Many times it may not be just one particular factor that may be the sole cause or contributor, but more than one factor. In most cases people do get over the experience of surviving a disaster and move on with their lives. For others, it is easier said than done! Also, factors which contribute towards a child experiencing trauma may differ from that of an adult.

Generally, factors that may contribute towards trauma are:

  1. Exposure or proximity to disaster site – Those who are closer to the disaster site are also going to feel more intense impacts and suffer more, than those who live further away from the disaster site.

  2. Repeated images of terror on TV - this is especially true for children.

  3. Relationships – Those whose relatives have been lost or injured in the disaster are at higher risk compared to those who have not lost anyone.

  4. Age; older people are often less adaptable than younger community members.
  5. History of previous traumatic events – If a person has gone through previous stressful events, whether it is violence, child abuse, etc, they are more likely to suffer trauma after a disaster has taken place as opposed to someone who has not.

  6. Socio economic factors – generally, people who struggled to make a living before the disaster occurred, are more likely to be at more risk to trauma now that they may have lost everything, compared to someone who is more financially stable.

Can you think of any other factors?

Some Common Responses to trauma

Common reactions to trauma may be any of the following:

  • Shock

  • Anxiety

  • Fear

  • Increased anxiety

  • Guilt at surviving

  • Sadness

  • Confusion and

  • Regret.

A trauma patient may also experience nightmares, lack of sleep, and flashbacks of the event. Physical reactions to trauma may be nausea, sweating, tiredness, loss of concentration, breathlessness, and aches and pains.

In further response to all of the above symptoms, people may start to drink or smoke, substance abuse, throw themselves into work and or become anti social, avoid talking about what happened, as well as avoid any situation that may remind them of the disaster!

Recovery from trauma

The length of time it will take for someone to recover from a traumatic experience varies. It will depend on the nature of the event and the situation and circumstances surrounding the individual. Another important factor is the degree of loss the individual has suffered and the ease of accessibility of support systems available to the individual or family to get through the trauma. For those especially stuck in a state of depression it may take longer. One of the strategies used to deal with trauma is counselling, referred to as trauma counselling. This can happen at different levels as described below.


What is counselling?

The word counselling comes from the Middle English counseil, from Old French conseil, from Latin cōnsilium; akin to cōnsulere, to take counsel, consult. The definitions of counselling may vary in descriptions as different people see counselling in different perspectives. However, counselling can be defined as a relatively short-term, interpersonal, theory-based process of helping persons who are fundamentally, psychologically healthy resolve to developmental and situational issues. There are many different types of counselling which include disaster counselling, trauma counselling, cross cultural counselling, etc.

A good counsellor does the following:

  • Listens effectively to what you are saying

  • Works with you to define your goals with respect to your values and culture

  • Facilitates your untangling of thoughts, feelings and worries about a situation

  • Helps you gain your own insight into how you act, think and feel

  • Teaches, shows and helps you express your emotions in your own way

  • Teaches, shows and helps you work out your own solutions to problems

  • Teaches, shows and helps you accept what cannot be changed

  • Helps you become empowered to act in ways that are in your best interest

  • Uses a variety of different techniques to help you explore what is important to you

Who needs counselling after a disaster?

After a disaster most people go through a stressful time. Parents, children, heads of both the government and private sectors, and basically the whole community suffer some kind of trauma.

  1. Children

In the early aftermath of disastrous events, many children encounter problems that are not easily resolved or their usual ways of handling problems are not working well for some reason. They may have found, for example, that talking to friends or relatives about their concerns is impossible or unsatisfying. Some of the concerns confronted by children include puzzling distressing feelings, low self confidence, getting along with others, self-defeating behaviours, academic problems, sexual identity concerns, and decision- making dilemmas. The Counselling Services can provide assistance for these concerns through counselling.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological damage that can result from experiencing, witnessing, or participating in an overwhelmingly traumatic (frightening) event. Children often relive the trauma through repetitive play. In young children, upsetting dreams of the traumatic event may change into nightmares of monsters, of rescuing others, or of threats to self or others. PTSD rarely appears during the trauma itself. Though its symptoms can occur soon after the event, the disorder may appear months or even years later.

Some of these changes might appear in a child having PTSD.

  • Refusal to return to school and “clinging” behaviour, including shadowing the mother or father around the house

  • Persistent fears related to the catastrophe (such as fears about being permanently separated from parents)

  • Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, screaming during sleep and bedwetting, persisting more than several days after the event

  • Loss of concentration and irritability

  • Startled easily, jumpy

  • Increase in behavioural problems, in school or at home in ways that are not typical for the child

  • Physical complaints (stomach-aches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause cannot be found

  • Distance from family and friends, sadness, listlessness, less active, and preoccupation with the events of the disaster.

Professional advice or treatment for children affected by a disaster—especially those who have witnessed destruction, injury or death— can help prevent or minimize PTSD. Parents who identify any of the above changes in their children should take their children for a check-up.

  1. Adults

Usually adults do not hesitate to go to a professional counsellor because many adults and children find it helpful to talk to a counsellor specialized in post-traumatic reactions. Also it can be a cultural feature whereby it’s not really a norm to talk about your problems in public or to confide to strangers. It is also important to consider that there might be severe cases among adults who might need assistance in getting to a counsellor to get diagnosed.

Soon after a disaster it is important to have a group of counsellors available for the victims to talk or attend to. However, if the number of counsellors is few compared to the population a selection of adult volunteers need to be trained, like teachers, council members, and parents.

Being adults, teachers and trainers can play a wide role in helping their students by giving opportunities to come up with their experiences. Similarly, they can guide parents to help their children as well as themselves in the overcome of the trauma. Other than the people involved in schooling, counselling methods differ from culture to culture. How different cultural groups handle stress and deal with stressors, their abilities, needs and desires for certain types of assistance, their motivations, their sense of honour and pride, their religious orientations and beliefs, their political systems and leadership, and their ways of handling and dealing with grief and loss are just some of the variables which are affected by cultural differences. Therefore, it is important for the counsellors who are going to assist internationally in another culture to identify the important issues that will bring relief to the culture.

How counselling can help a disaster victim

Counselling gives the understanding of the actual situation in the perspective of the disaster victim. Hence different methods of counselling aid in adjusting to the environment. Counselling facilitates personal and interpersonal functioning with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns.

Some problems that can be helped by counselling:

  • Coping with your relations to disaster.(fear, anger, coping with the changes in the environment)

  • Exploring personal issues.(spirituality, sexuality relationships, your goals and ambitions)

  • Family and relationship issues.(how to talk to the other person, intimacy with your partner)

  • Dealing with practical issues(financial support , transport problems)

Populations served by counselling psychologists include persons of all ages and cultural backgrounds. Examples of those populations would include late adolescents or adults with career/educational concerns and children or adults facing severe personal difficulties. However, there is a lot of evidence that counselling can help you cope better with the many difficulties you face during and after a disaster.

How to find a counsellor after a disaster

When we say counselling, we are talking about the counselling people need just after an unusual occurrence such as the tsunami of 2004, severe hurricanes, cyclones and volcanic eruptions. Unlike the normal conditions (where anyone in very great distress can consult a doctor) after a disaster, anyone who is ready to listen to you is considered as a counsellor. The degree of medical knowledge of the counsellors or psychotherapists can be limited as it varies. Most counsellors work hand in hand along with the health facilitators.

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